Therapists, the unsung heroes of the pandemic
Have you heard of the great, the helpful, the reliable, the amazing, the invisible… the over the phone therapist?
That’s right, as we clapped every Thursday night for the incredible NHS workers, there have been many other people who kept on working, and amongst them, many whos workload have significantly increased over the pandemic.
As mental health in the UK has significantly worsened by an average of 8.4% since the pandemic hit, therapists and mental health professionals worked overtime to keep up with all of us struggling with lockdown, losing our loved ones, and our personal and professional lives turning upside down. But what exactly happened to mental health over the pandemic and what can our mental health heroes do about it?
Mental health pre-pandemic
While many people would assume that our mental health in general has been worsening over the years, studies show that the increase in mental illness since the 70s is rather small, and is mainly because of awareness around well-being that leads to more people getting tested and diagnosed. The public assumption about a “mental health epidemic” mainly stems from previously neglected and under-diagnosed symptoms. Magazines misinterpreting the numbers in research papers and reporting alarming data are all over the internet, and pharmaceutical companies take great advantage of the panic amongst readers.
Having said that, it is important to state that sub-groups of the population are affected by mental health problems very differently. There has been a noticeable decline in mental health particularly in adolescent girls and young women. This was strongly highlighted by the pandemic.
How is our mental health now?
The UK’s prevalence of clinically significant levels of mental distress increased from 18.9% in 2018–19 to 27.3% in April, 2020, one month into lockdown. This was higher than the expected trend in increase. The subgroups with the highest level of mental health decline were…
Women in general
Front-line healthcare workers
Parents of small children
Healthcare workers reported a 50.4% rate of depression, 23.04% to 44.6% rate of anxiety, 34.0% rate of insomnia, and a 27.39% to 71.5% rate of stress.
24.9% of college students reported anxiety symptoms, many of them at a severe level. Depression, self-injury, suicidal thoughts and attempts have also significantly increased in children and young people. This showed further increase from the first to the second wave of Covid-19.
Women were significantly higher affected by the pandemic. Majority of front-line healthcare workers, carers and school staff are women that were hit by a much higher rate of stress than other groups. This was worsened by the major increase in domestic violence against women and the pressure of invisible labour at home that has fallen onto women while also holding down their usual jobs.
The overwhelmed state of the NHS, loss of freedom, loneliness, sudden changes in policies, serious financial issues, school closures and substance abuse are also major stressors currently worsening the public wellbeing.
How therapists stepped up
Given that the number of mental health professionals are tailored to the regular number of people that require therapy, a sudden urge to attend to an increased number of patients have caused major issues.
42.1% of therapists in Italy have reported their treatments being interrupted, which suggesting that Italy faced an important undersupply of psychotherapy during the lockdown.
Due to the pandemic, therapists were forced to transition to online and phone therapy regardless of their initial attitude towards these methods.
The light at the end of the tunnel
But while everything seems to be falling apart, there are positive aspects to this transition. Most therapists claimed that they learned to like online therapy and would use it in the future. This means more people can access mental health support remotely, and for those who struggled to show up in person, this will be a life-changing help of hand.
While majority of research showed a great increase in mental health problems when the pandemic started, a recent decline in these problems and an increase in resilience started to show.
This positive change is likely to continue in 2022. Attention to changes in policies regarding women, young people, parents with preschool aged children, and in how we treat our health care workers will also be important when trying to prevent future mental illness -as these groups were the most vulnerable during the pandemic.